Profiles By: Laura Jaros

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Part Three The Origins of Orchesis in Colleges and Modern Dance at UNO

Modern dance was first pioneered at UNO in 1931 by Ruth Diamond, dance instructor and head of the Women’s Physical Education Program 1931–1942 (Wittman 16). Ruth founded the University’s first advanced dance group in 1935, which she called Orchesis. Orchesis is derived from a Greek word meaning “expressive gesture” (Anderson 111). During Ruth’s years as a dance educator, pioneer, and innovator at UNO, she also established the first-ever Men’s Modern Dance Group, which performed alongside the UNO Orchesis dancers. According to Jack Anderson, author of Art Without Boundaries: The World of Modern Dance, the origins of Orchesis groups in American colleges and universities date back to 1917, when lesser-known dance pioneer Margaret H’Doubler founded the first group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a university dance club for students interested in studying dance (111). H’Doubler also established the first dance major program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1927, and she created an educational blueprint that was adopted in colleges and universities across the nation (Anderson 111).

Since then, however, UNO’s Orchesis group has changed its name to The Moving Company. Professor Metal-Corbin, director of The Moving Company, explains that when Orchesis was formed at UNO, the Department of Fine Arts was not willing to sponsor the club (Interview). According to the UNO archives, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a fear that modern dance would not be accepted by audiences, as the arts were not greatly appreciated by the Omaha public. In fact, in 1957, the Orchesis Modern Dance Club reports, “The Omaha dance audience is a cold audience for whom to give a program. They are relatively uneducated to the dance. Consequently, a very abstract dance concert will not go over.” Because of the accompaniment consisting of spoken words and drumbeats along with the sound of the dancers’ feet and strange music, modern dancers were often perceived as attention-seeking ultra feminists rather than being embraced for the radical ingenuity. However, the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, which essentially falls under the College of Education, eventually agreed to sponsor the club. Now, The Moving Company is open to all University students and members of the Omaha community who are college-age and older. Moreover, since the company’s formation, every director of Orchesis and The Moving Company has been a woman, beginning with Ruth Diamond in 1935. The majority of the members over the years have been women as well, although men are very much welcome.

According to the UNO website, The Moving Company is “an intergenerational company with a mission to create new works and to restage historical pieces.” Metal-Corbin comments on this notion by saying, “We hope to continue to keep historical dances alive; dances preserved from the pioneers of modern dance, while also putting new contemporary pieces out there” (Interview). In preserving the works created by the foremothers of modern dance, the company works as a reminder that women’s opportunities for artistic expression are essential when thinking about how art functions as a political statement. Over the years, the dance troupe has collaborated with many venues around Omaha in an attempt to present these historical and contemporary works through the integration of the arts into the lives of the people in the community.

 

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Part Four Nationwide Explosion of Modern Dance

Metal-Corbin explains that roughly 1980-1986, “There was an explosion of dance across the country” (Interview). She attributes the detonation of the arts in Omaha to a group called the “Performing Artist Omaha.” During this time, The Moving Company, along with other dance organizations throughout the city, were given many wonderful opportunities to work with big name dance companies from New York City. Because people were embracing dance, funding at that time was possible: “We would buy a master class for $500 and offer it to dancers from all over Omaha,” Metal-Corbin states (Interview). In collaboration with The Omaha Modern Dance Collective (OMDC), Performing Artist Omaha, and other dance organizations around Omaha, dancers worked to carve out a place for dance in the city. The picture below was taken in 1987 at the Summer Arts Festival in Omaha. Every year in